Nisrioch looked at the water heating on the brazier. “Ahh, perfect.” He placed a dipper in, and then carefully filled a cup. “Perfectly heated water is the key to perfect tea. Too cold, and the flavor doesn’t travel. Too hot--the flavor is spoiled, and you can’t drink it.” He smiled as the water in the cup took on a golden-brown color, and then smiled at Justinian and Jean. “This is my own special blend,” he noted setting the cup before Jean. He filled another cup. “The finest, freshest tea leaves, mixed with bergamot, ginger and just a dash of mint.” He smiled as he set the second cup before Justinian. “I call it ‘Lord Nisrioch’s Delight’.” He poured out a third cup. “I can assure you, the flavors are exquisite.”
Jean stared at the cup. “So--you’re serving us… tea.” She coughed slightly. “We tried to kill you--and you’re serving us tea.”
Nisrioch nodded. “I like to think most of the world’s problems could be solved if everyone simply had a nice little chat over a cup of tea from time to time.” His eyes went wide. “Oh, and I almost forgot…” He reached into his sleeve, and pulled out a large tray. “Cookies!” He gestured to the yellowish pastries, which had still had steam rising from them. “These are lemon flavored. They’re very nice.” He leaned forward conspiratorially. “I call them ‘Lemon Snaps’. Because they have such a sharp flavor!”
Jean and Justinian stared at the tea and cookies for a long time. “I’ll never talk, Dark Lord,” declared Justinian after a while. “No matter what you do to make me.”
Nisrioch smiled at him. “Your tea should be ready. Do give it a try!”
The pair gripped their cups and stared at them grimly. Jean looked at him. “Is this--poisoned?”
Nisrioch gasped. “Poison--tea? What kind of a monster do you think I am?” He frowned severely. “A man who would ruin tea--with poison--is my enemy!” He paused for a moment, as if in thought. “Also, poisoning in general is wrong. But poisoning tea is especially wrong!” The pair merely stared at him. He sighed. “Very well. It’s a breach of tea etiquette, but I shall make the sacrifice.” He picked up his cup and took a deep sip. His eyes shut and a smile spread across his face. “Ahhhh! Bliss!”
Jean looked at the tea, then looked at Justinian. She picked up her cup, and gulped it down. She frowned, wiping her mouth with her sleeve. “That’s… not bad.”
Justinian took a large quaff, and nodded. “Has an… interesting flavor.”
Nisrioch sighed. “I’m surrounded by heathens.” He picked up a cookie and dipped it in the tea. “Still, we’ll get you civilized eventually…” He took a discrete bite. “Now then--who are you, and why did you try to kill me?”
Justinian glared at him. “I told you, Dark Lord--I’ll never talk. I have no fear of torture or death, so--”
“I’m Jean Crow. The stupid shithead who won’t shut his mouth about not talking is Justinian Sigma. He’s a Sacristan. As for the whole ‘killing you’ thing--well, he was sent over to spy on you guys, but he heard you were going to be here, and suddenly he just HAD to play at being the great warrior of light, and try to kill you.” She shrugged. “Things just kind of got out hand after that.” She coughed. “Sorry about the crossbow.”
Nisrioch grinned, and clapped his hands. “Very good. You get a cookie!” He handed her one, which Jean quickly scarfed down.
“Mmmm! This is good!” she declared. She glanced over at Justinian, who narrowed his eyes. “Oh, come on! First of all, I’m not involved in this little mission of yours by choice. Second, he’d have gotten the damn information out of you somehow. So I decided not to let things drag on.”
Justinian crossed his arms. “You are shameless…”
“Now, now.” Nisrioch wagged his finger. “Talk like that won’t get you a cookie!” He laughed. “Oh, who am I kidding? You’re too adorable! Have a cookie!”
Justinian frowned. “I will not--” His objection was stopped by Nisrioch shoving a cookie in his mouth. To Justinian’s mind, the worst part of his indignity was that cookie was sweet and delicious.
Nisrioch took another sip from his tea. “So then, now that we all have enjoyed our tea and cookies, and you’ve cleared up the whole matter of your murder attempt, let’s deal with the little problem of what to do with you…”
Jean winced. “Just make it quick. I’ve been living on borrowed time anyway.”
“By the Darksome Lady!” said Nisrioch, his eyes widening. “What sort of savage do you think I am? You can’t kill someone after having tea with them. It’s bad manners!” He shrugged. “Besides, you’re clearly both confused. You think my family are evil people--and that’s just silly. We’re very nice. Oh, we’ve had our bad apples, started a few major wars--but really that’s not too unusual for a family in our line of work.” He smiled at them cheerfully. “And because I’m certain this misconception can be cleared up, I’m going to suggest you two pledge service to House Cthonique.”
“I--respectfully decline that… suggestion,” replied Justinian stonily.
“Yeah, I’m not that hot about it either,” said Jean.
Nisrioch took another sip of his tea. “Oh, dear. I was afraid this might happen.” He sighed. “I fear I shall have to become vulgar.” He set his cup down, his eyes glinting strangely in the light. “Both of you should look at the palm of your left hand.”
Justinian did so and started. A rainbow-colored spiral had appeared there.
“What the HELL?” yelled Jean.
“You are now both under a geas that I have cast,” replied Nisrioch calmly. “Should either of you willingly and knowingly act against the interests of House Cthonique, you will break the geas.” He smiled. “I do not recommend doing that. The results would be--unpleasant. To put it mildly.”
Justinian frowned. “You mean we’d die.”
“Eventually,” Nisrioch said pleasantly. “As I said--it would be unpleasant.”
“Oh, very nice,” snapped Jean. “I see we have an incredible range of choice in this matter…”
Nisrioch’s eyes narrowed. “You always have a choice in this, Miss Crow. But as always is the case, your choice has consequences, a fact that you clearly have failed to grasp in your life.”
Justinian glared at him. “How’d you do it? Was it the tea? Or the cookies?”
“Not precisely,” said Nisrioch. “It was more--what they represent. You have taken food and drink from my hand. That invokes the laws of hospitality and obligation--powerful old magic. You have placed yourself under my power.” He nibbled a cookie. “Be glad I am--a merciful man.”
“So what are we supposed to do?” said Jean.
Nisrioch was silent for a moment. “My niece is a lonely young girl,” he finally said. “She needs friends. Or at least company. I’d like you to give it to her.”
Jean stared at him. “That’s it? That’s all you want us to do?”
“Oh, I’m sure other tasks will come up,” said Nisrioch dismissively. “But that would be your core obligation.” He finished up his tea.
“I don’t believe this.” Jean shook her head. “A blasted Dark Lord wants me to be a nursemaid!”
“I wouldn’t say that,” replied Nisrioch. “She’s about your age actually.” He frowned. “Well, a little younger in fact. But very mature. And you two are notably immature, so it all balances out!”
Jean snorted. “That’s an interesting way of figuring it.” She sighed. “Well, not like I have any real say in the matter. I’ll take your offer.”
Justinian gritted his teeth. “I also… accept.”
“Oh, excellent!” said Nisrioch with a titter. “This calls for more cookies!” He pulled another tray from his sleeve. “These are Raspberry Thumbprints! And they are scrumptious!”